It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a Middle Grade book outside the context of school. The last one was probably when I was taking YA Literature and re-read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
The Art of Running Away caught my attention because…it hadn’t occurred to me that running away could have an art form of its own. Also, I’m very intrigued by books that heavily feature art. It takes a lot of skill to describe artwork if it’s not printed into the book. And I’m a sucker for family secrets.
From the moment I picked this up, I could tell that it was nothing like what I thought it would be. What I imagined to be a simple story about growing up became something much larger, much richer, and much more fulfilling.
Title: The Art of Running Away
Author: Sabrina Kleckner
Genre: Middle Grade contemporary
Book 27 of 2021
Reading Time: 2hrs 25mins
Date Finished: October 31, 2021
Content Warnings: Homophobia, dishonest parents, family secrets
What Worked For Me: Sibling relationship, focus on art, discussions on allyship
What Didn’t Work For Me: Needed more expansion on certain diverse characters
I’m going to be honest, I don’t have a lot of notes to pull from because it turns out that I completely forgot to write any. It’s been 5 months since I’ve read this, and while I do remember a good amount, there are things I’m not as clear about. Regardless, I’m going to do my best to discuss The Art of Running Away because I find myself thinking of it often and already recommended it to a few people.
The story follows Maisie, a 12-year old artist who is trying to save her parents’ art store from going under. Her plans immediately go wrong when her parents decide to send her away to spend the summer with her aunt. Angry and upset, she runs away to live with Calum, her brother who mysteriously left home six years ago. As she spends her summer in London, Maisie learns that her family has more secrets than she realizes.
Something I somewhat pride myself on is the ability to read and forget story synopses. I clearly read it when I requested the ARC from NetGalley and put it on my TBR, but I had already forgotten everything except the art and family secrets by the time I picked it up.
That being said, it allowed me to go into the story with few expectations and be fully surprised by how quickly I got invested. Due to the age gap, I usually have some trouble reading Middle Grade. It’s also a matter of not growing up in the US and not understanding what it’s like for kids there to come of age in any way. My experiences are drastically different.
But that didn’t matter here. I found it easy and compelling to read about Maisie’s love for art. Her passion for it that drove her to want more, to constantly try to be better at her craft. A part of me related to that, even at the age of 24. I remembered what it was like to be so consumed by something you love at that age, to want it to be your entire life.
It quickly turned from being about Maisie’s unwillingness to live in Scotland with her aunt for the summer and became about what it means to reconnect with a sibling whom you barely remember and haven’t seen in years. I’m all for chaotic sibling dynamics and watching how two vastly different people explore familial ties after years of being apart.
The sibling dynamic quickly became one of my favorite things about the book. I could relate to Calum as he tried to be patient with a sister 10 years younger than him. It’s how I feel when I see middle schoolers running around. The ease he and Maisie quickly developed as they teased each other felt natural, revealing a different side of him at the same time.
I loved the moments where it was just the two of them learning more about each other and realizing what kind of person their sibling was. It showed a very real part of sibling relationships, which are hard to find in books. The balance of seriousness and humor was perfectly done to show the age gap, leaving just enough room for growth between the two characters.
As I read this, it reminded me of I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, another book that features art, family secrets, and coming of age as part of the LGBTQ+ community. By no means are they directly comparable, one is Middle Grade while the other is YA, and yet they share the ability to talk about difficult subjects with a delicate and understanding manner.
I had entirely missed the part that this was dealing with LGBTQ+ matters, so it came as a nice surprise when I saw it unfolding and how each of the characters was handling it.
One of my favorite moments was between Maisie and Rose, one of Calum’s flatmates, about what true allyship means. It made me pause and think about whether I’ve been a real ally or simply my idea of what it means. The conversation explored how good intentions can still hurt people, explaining that it goes beyond accepting people for their sexual orientation.
Even as an adult, I benefitted from that and found myself wishing that it could be the way other adults learned about allyship. I wish it was the way I learned the meaning of being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Just for that, I think The Art of Running Away is worth picking up.
All good things aside, I did want a little more discussion around some of the other minority characters. Benji is a Japanese British character who is gay, and we don’t get a lot of talk about his experience outside of a quick run-through of him coming out. There was little else to it even though being Asian would make his experience different from any white character.
There is also several mentions of a gender-fluid character whose name I can’t remember because they never made a physical appearance. I thought that we’d get to meet them, but the whole book ends without even hearing them speak. Considering that the book went to far as to include a gender-fluid character, I wish we had seen more of them, had a real character to think about rather than just a name.
It’s these things about representation that I wish were fleshed out more. It’s harder to discuss, for sure, but equally important. There’s no one-size-fits-all experience, and while I recognize that these two characters were not focal points of the story, they also mattered. Their voices and stories deserved more space, seeing as they’re even greater minorities in the LGBTQ+ community.
All in all, the book wrapped up well. Everything was quite realistic and I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to make it a totally perfect happy ending just because it’s a Middle Grade book. Things weren’t perfectly resolved immediately because that’s not how real life works. Rather, it showed that things can slowly work their way toward being mended and that some deeper hurts require time as well as true apologies.
While it’s not a book I’d add to my own physical collection, I do think this is a highly underrated book for children between the ages of 10-13. It handles discussions around LGBTQ+ topics better than some of the YA and adult novels I’ve read, teaching more than just acceptance. I think it’s perfect for kids who are learning about the LGBTQ+ space or who have questions about what it means to be an ally.
I’ve marked The Art of Running Away as one of the books I’d recommend to kids in middle school or parents who have children that age. The conversation around growing up, family, passion, and truth is well balanced and perfectly written for readers at that age.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review.